“Got Committed to Buy…”: How the Low-ball Effect Helps in the Sales Market

“Got Committed to Buy…”: How the Low-ball Effect Helps in the Sales Market


“Hey, this mouth-savouring Afghani Chaap with Tawa roll is on Sale and only 100 rupees on this new food-ordering app!”, Rahul daydreamed the delicious aroma travelling to his nose and quickly proceeded to order his lunch. As soon he was about to pay, he saw that the price had almost doubled as there was GST, a high Delivery fee (for a very short distance), and not to mention, Some tip for the delivery man. This, essentially, is what the low-ball effect is. The low-ball effect is when an exceedingly persuasive offer is made to incite the person to accept the offer and after acceptance, it is made less favourable.

Read More: The Psychology of Persuasion

Most commonly used by salespersons and advertisers, the low-ball effect rests on the assumption that once people have committed to an offer after hearing attractive terms of conditions, they are unlikely to back out even if the terms are tweaked a little opposite to the benefit of the target person.

The low-ball effect is a very famous tactic of persuasion as laid down in Robert Cialdini’s famous book ‘Influence: Psychology Of Persuasion’ originally published in 1993. The low-ball effect is a great tool that can be used to get people to comply with a request. Social psychologists have researched this tactic intensely and their findings are worth noting.

Read more: The psychology behind sales

Social Psychology Finds

Social psychology is defined as the scientific study of how “thoughts, feelings and behaviour are influenced in the actual, imagined and implied presence of others” as dictated by Gordon Allport. The low-ball effect is a highly effective tactic as can be observed from countless research findings.

Cialdini’s research on this involved him asking students to Volunteer in an experiment. The Students who were told to appear for the experiment at 7 am were labelled as the Control Group. Only 31% of the students showed. Later, the experimenter asked the second group ( the lowballed group) to appear for the experiment but they were not told the time until they agreed. They called those who agreed and said that the students would have to report at 7 am. It was found that more students in the low-ball condition showed up than those who were informed priorly that it would be at 7 am. In fact, the students in the low-ball effect were on time!

Read More: The Mini Theories of Psychology

Burger and Petty carried out a similar research in 1981 where they initially requested undergraduate students to take a test on their numeric skills for extra credit and then later on, changed that request to exclude the extra credit. The findings were similar. People carried out their initial commitment. However, there are certain things to note about the low-ball effect, these are:

Findings stay consistent across different genders. People are more likely to comply if both requests, favourable and less favorable, are made by the same person. Commitment to someone is more effective than a commitment to a behaviour. The lowball effect is less when the request made is about illegal behaviour.

Read More: Use of Psychology in Advertising and Marketing

Examples In Everyday Life

Car Dealerships will often place extravagant offers in front of customers and highlight the advantages of the particular vehicle but diminish the disadvantages and hide the drawbacks of the offer.

Realtors often present heavily desirable deals that often sound too good to be true so after getting an official commitment from the buyers, they slowly and steadily begin adding additional costs or later inform about something detrimental regarding the property (for instance in horror movies, we see families purchase a house at a surprisingly low cost but the realtors don’t mention that it is haunted, similarly the realtor may inform later on about property flaws such as leaky roofs and so on).

Shopkeepers and Salespersons may get a customer to agree to buy something at a very low price and later inform them about extra charges that could apply or some drawbacks about the product. As we can see in the example used at the beginning of the article. Coupon Codes and Online Offers grab consumers’ attention by presenting a slash from original or commonly known prices. However, it is always followed by either some sort of minimum cost to avail of the offer or the coupon only slashes the taxes added. For example, 100 rupees cashback, is applicable only on orders above 499.

By knowing about the everyday usage of this tactic, you may be able to save money by preventing subconscious compliance. Such tactics are based on principles of persuasion laid out in the book ‘Influence: Psychology Of Persuasion’.

Principles Of Persuasion

Cialdini laid out seven principles of persuasion in his book. According to him, these are tactics through which we can increase compliance with our requests. Let us look at these principles:

Reciprocity holds that people are more likely to oblige to a request if they feel that you have obliged to their earlier requests. For example, if you hold someone’s bag for them, they are likely to return your book to a library. In simple terms, people prefer to return a favour over doing something for someone first. Scarcity is a principle most frequently seen during sales, especially end-of-season sales. People are more likely to purchase something if they believe that the object is limited or in a small quantity.

The authority principle believes that we are more likely to comply with a request if we believe it to be coming from an authoritative figure. For instance, you are more likely to obey your boss rather than your coworkers. Consistency holds that people are more likely to act if they have previously committed to it. This we can see happen in instances of low-ball techniques.

The principle Of Liking dictates that people are more likely to comply with requests made by someone they like. Of course, you are more likely to agree with someone you find attractive or like to impress them! Social Proof holds that people are more likely to do something if they believe others do it and that society would approve of it. This is why people did not comply with deviant requests in the lowball experiments.

Social Psychology has conducted extensive research on all these as well and they have proven to yield highly fruitful effects. All these tactics and principles are at play in our daily lives at all times. Becoming aware of these can help you identify them much more easily and even protect you from agreeing to something you did not want to.

References +
  • Guéguen, N., & Pascual, A. (2013). Low-ball and compliance: Commitment even if the request is a deviant one. Social Influence, 9(3), 162–171. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15534510.2013.798243
  • APA PsycNet. (n.d.). https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-32788-001 https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-32788-001 Kiesler, C. A. (1971). The psychology of commitment.  https://philpapers.org/rec/KIETPO?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Sailthru&nr_email_referer=1
  • Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Seven Principles of Persuasion | IAW. (2023, June 13). Influence at Work.  https://www.influenceatwork.com/7-principles-of-persuasion/

Leave feedback about this

  • Rating